As a freelancer, be humbled, not discouraged, by rejection.
Ava DuVernay recently unveiled the first trailer for her new movie, A Wrinkle In Time, slated to be released early next year. The story, which has been previously adapted by Disney, is based on a 1960’s Madeleine L’Engle young adult, science fantasy novel, which was not so easily sold to publishers, at the time. A Wrinkle in Time was initially rejected 26 times by editors who believed, for the most part, that it would be difficult to classify and “too challenging for children.”
Twenty-six “no” responses is a lot of rejection for one piece of writing, but L’Engle believed in her book, continued to push it, and it eventually went on to win a Newbery Medal.
While I’ve never written a book, and therefore have never gone through the hellish ordeal of writing an entire book just to have a publisher tell you that they aren’t interested in it, I have had the good fortune of pitching various articles and having them published. I’ve also had my pitches rejected many times, by many different platforms.
If you’re looking for advice on how to craft better pitches, you won’t find that here. Though, a quick Google search will reveal that that topic has been thoroughly covered by people who are far more knowledgeable than I am—like editors who’ve seemingly only taken the time to offer their guidance on the subject because they’re sick to death of wading through shitty pitches. I’d strongly suggest taking advantage of that.
I’m writing, simply, about accepting rejection.
The most confident piece of advice that I give, to anyone looking to begin a career in writing, is that rejection is inevitable and you should be prepared for it. No one, whether personally or professionally, likes to hear no but you will. Knowing this, it’d be wise to grow a thick skin and learn not to hang your hopes or your sense of self-worth, as a writer, on any platform's acceptance of your work.
So much of making it as a writer, I feel, is less about being naturally gifted and more about being willing or able to stick with it; it’s an industry that quickly weeds people out. (Side note: this has a lot to do with why there’s a paucity of marginalized voices in writing, as they generally have less resources to help them along their journey. But that’s a topic for another time.) How many of the young writers, coming up in today’s barren wasteland of writing, will be able to look up in 15 years and say they outlasted the majority of their competition?
Rejection, like many other unfavorable experiences, can ultimately be beneficial to your progress if you’re wise enough to use it as a tool. Follow up and ask why your piece wasn’t accepted. Sometimes you won't get answers but very often you will, and free, professional advice is not something that should be passed up on.
If you find that a piece is rejected to every site that you think it’ll be appropriate for, self-publish it. This, I feel, is very important because a rejection doesn't mean that whatever you’re pitching isn’t worth reading. Often, it only means that it didn't fit that particular platform’s needs or writing style. If it’s a piece that you feel strongly about, putting it out into the world, whether on a self-publishing site or your personal blog, and giving people the opportunity to give you feedback on it is good for creative morale.
To date, the most popular piece that I’ve written, and the piece that seems to have resonated the most deeply with readers, was something that was originally rejected, later self-published on Medium, and ultimately picked up by a much larger platform than the one that’d initially rejected me.
Editors don’t always get it right; they’re human. The Color Purple was rejected by an editor who told Alice Walker that her writing style was “jarring.”
For most creatives, being told “thanks, but no thanks” or hearing nothing at all (which I find the most frustrating) stings and there’s no way around that. Depending on how personal it is, a rejection of a submission might feel like a rejection of you, as a person.
It’s a waste of time telling people not to take these things personally. But the more you’re prepared for it—the more that you get it in your mind that it’s a normal part of being a writer—the easier it’ll be to shrug it off and get on with your life. Use it as fuel to hone your skills and improve both your pitches and your full bodies of work. But don’t, under any circumstances, allow it to slow you down.
Writing is hard.
Unless your writing goals don’t involve making a comfortable living or consistently getting a lot of eyes on your work, then it’s always going to be a tough job, fraught with uncertainty. As a freelancer especially, if you plan to be discouraged by every instance of rejection, you might as well throw in the towel now because you have a miserable road ahead of you that you’re likely not built for.